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The One With all the Holiday Parties

By: Sabrina Persaud, Associate, Tampa

‘Tis the season! The holidays are here, winter is coming (for all you Frozen fans, that would be Elsa), and we all know what that means – holiday parties! Food, coquito, merriment, dancing, eggnog, work accidents, and so on. No, your eyes have not deceived you and you read that correctly. Work accidents do not cease to occur at holiday parties or recreational or social events.

As we all know, the general rule is that the employer must pay compensation or furnish medical benefits if the employee suffers an accidental compensable injury or death arising out of work performed in the course and the scope of employment. F.S. 440.09. However, accidents which occur at recreational or social activities are not compensable unless such activities are an expressly required incident of employment and produce a substantial and direct benefit to the employer beyond improvement in employee health and morale that is common to all kinds of recreational and social life. F.S. 440.192(1).

With these types of cases, we are looking for (1) whether it was mandatory for the employee to attend, and (2) whether the employer derived some substantial benefit from the employee’s attendance besides bolstering the employee’s health and morale. The test is twofold and both prongs must be met.

The landmark case addressing this scenario is Sterling v. Mike Brown, Inc., 580 So. 2d 832 (Fla. 1st DCA 1991). In this particular case, though the company Christmas party occurred during lunch time on the Employer’s premises, it was not mandatory for the employees to attend. On top of that, the sole purpose of the party was to boost employee morale. Thus, none of the prongs were met and compensability was denied. The interesting part about Sterling is that not only did the Employer argue there was no accident within the course and scope of employment, but they also raised an intoxication defense and the court agreed. They noted that the employer is not barred from asserting the intoxication defense.

A more recent case illustrating the classic holiday party scenario is Roberto L. Cintron Ayala v. EZ Corp. Inc./ACE USA, OJCC 14-003143WJC (Orlando District). In this case, the claimant suffered a knee injury while dancing with his boss at a company Christmas party offsite. The court looked at the totality of the circumstances and found that not only was the party offsite, but the Employer did not require attendance, employees were not punished for not attending, and the only benefit to the Employer was a boost of employee morale. Thus, compensability was denied.

As the holiday season goes into full swing and you are out attending company events, keep in mind that workers’ compensation could apply if an incident takes place. Hopefully, you do not experience any of these company Christmas party injuries this holiday season, but if you do, some questions to ask yourself are:

  • Were employees required to attend?
  • Were employees paid to attend?
  • Were employees punished if they did not attend?
  • Was there any benefit to the employer beyond a boost in company morale?
  • Did the employer receive any financial incentive for employees attending the event?

And, with that being said, please join us for our upcoming holiday parties in Orlando (Dec. 4, 2019), Tampa (Dec. 5, 2019), Tallahassee (Dec. 10, 2019), and Atlanta (Dec. 12, 2019)! Happy Holidays!